UAMS Myeloma Researchers on Team Analyzing Disease’s Genetic Fingerprints
Cancer Cell Publishes Work That Could Lead to New Treatments

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) are part of a team that has identified that multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood, could actually be several different diseases at the molecular level with a potential for genetically targeted treatments that could extend to other forms of cancer.


The research is published in the April 2006 issue of journal Cancer Cell. The article, “High-resolution genomic profiles define distinct clinico-pathogenetic subgroups of multiple myeloma patients,” is now available online at


UAMS myeloma researcher John D. Shaughnessy Jr., Ph.D., was one of three lead authors of the study, along with Ron A. DePinho, M.D., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School, and Cameron Brennan, M.D., of Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center. Shaughnessy is director of the Lambert Laboratory of Myeloma Genetics in the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, which is part of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center at UAMS, and a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine.


The new research, based on analysis of recurrent DNA changes in myeloma cells, is a significant step in understanding the genetic basis of myeloma development and progression, Shaughnessy said. The study suggests that myeloma consists of at least four different genetic subtypes of disease, he said.


“This represents a watershed in myeloma research since multiple myeloma’s genetic complexity had previously kept us from determining if it was actually more than one disease,” Shaughnessy said. “Now we can begin to better determine the severity of the disease in myeloma patients based on the correlations between the genetics and the variability in response and outcome to current therapies.”  


Shaughnessy added, “Ultimately, the goal is to understand the genetic basis for disease initiation and progression and to develop targeted treatments based on these insights.


“Development of so-called targeted therapies, aimed at specific genetic mutations and biochemical pathways affected within cancer cells is being utilized now in some cancers like chronic myelogenous leukemia and is a hope for all cancers,” he said.


Several of the genes identified in the study also are associated with unrelated cancers, including pancreatic, lung, breast and ovarian cancer.


The MIRT continues to be at the forefront of myeloma research with this latest publication. Studies of myeloma treatment methods, led by Bart Barlogie, M.D., Ph.D., director of the MIRT, were published in the April issue of Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology as well as the March 9 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.


Barlogie’s work was recognized in March when the organization responsible for publishing the annual America’s Top Doctors named him a national physician of the year. The selection was based on nominations submitted by physicians profiled in America’s Top Doctors.


Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that involves plasma cells – white blood cells that produce antibodies. It is the second most common cancer of the blood.


When plasma cells become cancerous, they reproduce uncontrollably and crowd out healthy red and white blood cells, preventing them from fighting infection and carrying oxygen throughout the body. Bone destruction is a common manifestation of myeloma. The malignant cells also produce a type of protein that can cause kidney failure.


In 2003, Shaughnessy’s laboratory reported, in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the molecular mechanism by which myeloma cells cause bone destruction.  His laboratory is currently developing and testing novel monoclonal antibody therapies that target and inhibit the specific protein produced by myeloma cells that cause bone destruction.


Research at the MIRT has more than doubled the annual survival rate of a myeloma patient upon diagnosis from three years to seven years and beyond.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 medical residents. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with almost 9,000 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the VA Medical Center. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.3 billion a year.